BRISTOL — Bristol voters will take to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 25, to weigh in on a $1.5 million bond to fund stormwater system upgrades on North Street.
If the bond vote is approved, the town could be in line for stimulus funding that could pay for as much as half of that project. Town officials have said that if the stimulus money falls through, they won’t move forward on the stormwater improvements — but Bristol residents have to approve the bond first if the town is to be eligible for the government funds, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The deadline for approving the bond and drawing up final engineering plans is Sept. 1.
If the project moves forward, the town would fill in its original stormwater system under North Street — made up of clay tiles — and put in a new pipe and new catch basins.
The town completed an engineering study that recommended these improvements in 2006, two years after a large 2004 flood, but upgrades were tabled because of the high price tag.
“Our stormwater system is original, old clay tile and it’s crumbling underground,” said selectman Joel Bouvier in April, when the town applied for the economic stimulus. Bouvier in his campaign for the selectboard this year spoke to the need for infrastructure upgrades in Bristol. “We all remember the flood that night (in 2004), and water running like a river down North Street. … We might have had a lot less damage (if upgrades had been made).”
An informational meeting on Monday night at 8 p.m. in the upper room at Holley Hall will precede Tuesday’s special bond vote.
Whether or not Bristol will receive stimulus funding — and just how much — still hangs in the air. Earlier this summer town administrator Bill Bryant said the town was just shy of the funding cut-off, but now he says the town has its “toe in the door.”
“The list (of statewide projects) has shifted a little bit, such that we’re starting to get a little piece of the pie,” he said.
Under the economic recovery package, the government would lend Bristol the funds for the stormwater improvements. As much as half of that loan could be immediately “forgiven,” and the rest would need to be paid back over 20 years, along with a 2 percent administrative fee.
That means that, if the project costs the estimated $1.5 million, and 50 percent of the loan is forgiven, Bristol would need to make a first-year repayment of $52,500 next year. That would add just under two cents — a roughly 3.4 percent increase — to the municipal tax rate.
Bryant said he and town selectmen know that the tough economy makes this a hard time to ask Bristol residents to approve a $1.5 million project, but said the project is important and needs to get done.
“It really is up to the voters … but we do believe that this is the best opportunity we’ll get to fund this project,” Bryant said.
If the economic stimulus grant falls through, selectmen have pledged to back off the project. They haven’t yet said just how far they would be able to veer from the perfect scenario of 50/50 funding. Conceivably, Bryant said, Bristol could receive less than the full 50 percent from the government.
If that happens, the selectboard will need to determine whether or not to move ahead with the project.
“They haven’t drawn a line in the sand,” Bryant said. “They’re hopeful that we’re going to get 50 percent, or pretty close to it.”
Polls will be open for Tuesday’s special bond vote from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Holley Hall, and absentee ballots are currently available at the town clerk’s temporary offices at 6 South St.